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PLASP Is Like Family, Program Director Jiji Says After Losing Hers

Jiji El Talmas

In 1995, Jiji El Talmas was in her last year of high school. She wanted to pursue photography or film production after graduating. When she began her volunteer hours at a PLASP child care centre, all that changed.

“When I first starting volunteering, I thought that all I would be doing was playing with the children for a little while, and then going home,” Jiji remembers. “I learned very quickly that’s not what volunteering at PLASP is about.”

Twenty years later, she vividly remembers the two PLASP staff who mentored her.

Barb Kleschnitzki, Jiji’s first introduction to PLASP, was a volunteer coordinator, eventually becoming the Manager of Volunteer Services. Years later, PLASP would recognize Barb’s contribution to volunteering and making a difference in the lives of volunteers by establishing the Barb Kleschnitzki Award.

“Barb told me right away that our job as volunteers was not just to play and then leave,” Jiji recalls. “She impressed on me that what I did was important and that I mattered – my presence made a difference.”

Her supervisor during her placement, at Huntington Ridge, was Helen Simon. Right away, Helen made Jiji feel welcomed into the PLASP family.

“Helen recognized in me things that I didn’t even know about myself, such as my ability as an artist,” Jiji says. “I remember Helen asking me to paint the windows of the child care centre for every occasion.

“While I was volunteering, PLASP started to feel very much like a family to me. And this feeling of family was further enforced when I was graduating from high school. My entire family was overseas – I was debating not going to my graduation because I was going to be alone. When Helen found this out, she told me I was going to my graduation and that she was going with me.” At her graduation, Helen gave Jiji a giant teddy bear, which Jiji named Huntington – after the school where she volunteered.

Jiji’s experience as a volunteer had a lasting impact on her as a young adult. After volunteering with PLASP, Jiji decided to pursue a career in early childhood education. An ECE student at Sheridan College, when the time came for Jiji to do her placement, she asked if she could do it with PLASP.

Shortly after becoming an ECE, tragedy struck the family that Jiji had created in Canada. Jiji lost both her husband and baby daughter in a car accident. She went home to Lebanon for 10 years to heal.

When she returned to Canada to begin again, she recognized that she needed to be with family. And for Jiji, that was working once again with PLASP. On Nov. 25, 2013 Jiji began her employment with one of PLASP’s before and after school kindergarten programs.

“PLASP is my family,” Jiji says. “It’s been such a blessing to work for an organization that puts children and families first. I couldn’t imagine my life without PLASP.”

Recently, Jiji was planning a small graduation ceremony for the children in her program – and as she talked about it, she remembered Helen attending her own graduation.

“Helen attending my high school graduation which meant the world to me. As a young girl at that time, I saw it as PLASP attending my graduation, and that was a big deal."

As a surprise to Jiji, PLASP arranged for both Barbara and Helen to attend the graduation ceremony that Jiji was planning. PLASP CEO Lynn Hiebert, and Sandy Edmonds, Vice President of Operations, also attended.

PLASP CEO Lynn Hiebert with Helen Simon

“Helen attended my high school graduation which meant the world to me. As a young girl at that time, I saw it as PLASP attending my graduation, and that was a big deal," says Jiji. PLASP CEO Lynn Hiebert is pictured here with Helen Simon, who continues to work for PLASP in the Early Learning and Child Care Centres.

Vice President Sandy Edmonds presents a child with a "diploma"

Recently, Jiji planned a small graduation ceremony for the children in her program – as a surprise to Jiji, PLASP arranged for both Barb and Helen to attend the graduation ceremony. PLASP CEO Lynn Hiebert, and Sandy Edmonds, Vice President of Operations, also attended.

Past manager of Volunteer Services Barbara Kay with Jiji El Talmas

“You work with hundreds of volunteers over the years, and while you know that they are young and impressionable, you never dream that the volunteer program will have the impact on them that we see here today,” says Barb, pictured here with Jiji.

Jiji El Talmas hugging a child “It’s amazing to be here,” said Barb, at the graduation. “You work with hundreds of volunteers over the years. You know they are young and impressionable, but you never dream the volunteer program will have the impact on them that we see here today being with Jiji. I’m so proud of her and proud of the PLASP volunteer program.”

"I'm so extremely touched to have had Barb and Helen, as well as Lynn and Sandy, here today," Jiji said at the end of the children's graduation. "I am in tears. From the bottom of my heart, thank you, PLASP for all that you have done for me."

Do you have a story about how PLASP has changed your life, either as a volunteer or a staff? Or a story about a program staff like Jiji that you want to share? We'd love to hear your #PLASPstory.

We are currently accepting registrations for our volunteer orientation sessions.

“PLASP is my family,” Jiji said, in an interview at the PLASP head office recently. “It has been such a blessing to me to work for an organization that puts children and families first. I couldn’t imagine my life without PLASP.”

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